The judge overseeing the case in which New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is charged with soliciting prostitution halted Florida prosecutors' plans to release police surveillance video from a spa at which Kraft and two dozen other men have been charged with paying for and receiving sexual favors.
"I don’t want this released until I’ve ruled," Florida Circuit Court Judge Joseph Marx said in an emergency hearing on a conference call with the two parties and the media late Wednesday afternoon.
The drama began earlier Wednesday when Palm Beach County prosecutors indicated that they were preparing to release the potentially embarrassing surveillance video from inside the spa.
County officials said that the video would be released in response to public records requests in the cases of two women who are accused of facilitating the alleged prostitution at the Orchids Of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.
Under Florida's so-called "Sunshine" law, any records made or received by any public agency in the course of its official business are available for inspection, unless specifically exempted by the Florida Legislature
Officials said they would "pixelate or blur depictions of obscene or pornographic images before releasing such records to the public, absent a court order."
Kraft's attorneys responded swiftly, filing a letter to the judge in court records to apprise him of what they described as "an extraordinary and alarming development involving what appears to be gross prosecutorial misconduct" and accused law enforcement officials of trying to circumvent the judgment of the court. Kraft's attorneys had previously filed a motion with the court to suppress the video evidence, and a hearing had been scheduled.
That hearing is now scheduled for April 29 at 1:30 p.m. local time.
Defense attorneys for the National Football League (NFL) team owner are expected to argue at that hearing that a search warrant that allowed investigators to install hidden cameras inside the spa's massage rooms was improperly obtained, and to note among other things that an investigation premised on probing alleged human trafficking at the Orchids spa has yet to lead to any trafficking charges.
"Nevetheless," Kraft's attorneys wrote, "the State is hell-bent on disclosing the Videos to the public even before a determination of their legality."
Kraft is charged by Palm Beach prosecutors with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution for allegedly visiting the Florida spa on two occasions earlier this year and paying for sexual favors from the massage parlor’s staff. Two dozen other men caught up in the probe were similarly charged.
Authorities set up hidden cameras at the spa as part of a larger investigation into sex trafficking and, according to Jupiter police detectives, obtained video evidence of all of the suspects participating in the alleged sexual acts.
Kraft chose to reject a deferred prosecution agreement offered last month to all of the men charged, which would not have required him to plead guilty to any charges.
The proposed pre-trial diversion offer would have required Kraft to either acknowledge guilt or admit that he would have been proven guilty at trial, according to the spokesperson for the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, Mike Edmondson.
The Patriots team owner has pleaded not guilty and opted for a non-jury trial before a judge, while assembling a powerhouse team of high-profile Florida criminal defense attorneys.
While Kraft is currently facing a statutory maximum of one year in jail, if he were to have accepted the plea agreement, the misdemeanor charges would have been dropped.
As part of the statute, Kraft would have had to perform 100 hours of community service, attend a class on the dangers of prostitution and pay a $5,000 fine per count, according to Edmondson.
Last month, Kraft issued a statement that he is "truly sorry" for getting caught up in the investigation.
"I know I have hurt and disappointed my family, my close friends, my co-workers, our fans and many others who rightfully hold me to a higher standard."
Kraft also described his "extraordinary respect for women" and cited the spirit of his late wife, Myra Kraft, who died in 2011 of ovarian cancer after 48 years of marriage.
“Throughout my life, I have always tried to do the right thing. The last thing I would ever want to do is disrespect another human being. I have extraordinary respect for women; my morals and my soul were shaped by the most wonderful woman, the love of my life, who I was blessed to have as my partner for 50 years."
“As I move forward, I hope to continue to use the platform with which I have been blessed to help others and to try to make a difference. I expect to be judged not by my words, but by my actions. And through those actions, I hope to regain your confidence and respect.”